What is the Miwok Tribe?

Lori Kilchermann

The Miwok tribe of Indians occupy an area of the United States on the West Coast of California. The primary area of the Miwok lay on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The Miwok tribe was extremely isolated and rarely traveled outside of its own villages. The Miwok never knew the official names of neighboring Indians and simply referred to them as people to the north, west and other directions.

The Miwok tribe often wore deerskins for concealment while hunting deer.
The Miwok tribe often wore deerskins for concealment while hunting deer.

The Miwok tribe generally falls into two categorical groups: The mountain tribe and the foothill tribe. The mountain tribe generally lives in the Sierras to avoid the heat of summer by escaping high up into the hills. The offerings of the mountains such as fruit, berries and fishing kept the Miwok tribe fed and secure. The foothill tribe foraged on the plentiful offerings of the Yosemite and Sequoia groves.

The Miwok Indians often lived in dwellings made of cedar.
The Miwok Indians often lived in dwellings made of cedar.

Winter was especially harsh in the Sierras. Every fall, the mountain tribe would abandon the higher locations and retreat first to the lower levels and eventually to the foothills. Much in the same manner as the larger game animals, the Miwok understood that existence was much easier in the lower elevations. They gathered nuts and grasses to last the winter and focused on the game that had been driven out of the hills.

The Miwok tribe was not as advanced in tool making as many other tribes. They failed to use stone and antler in ways that the other tribes had learned to use it. The act of gathering firewood was hindered by the failure to use bone and antlers as a wedge to fall a tree. The Miwok tribe simply burned dead trees down and broke the branches with large stones.

The Miwoks also didn't utilize the canoe. Members of the tribe that could not swim were ferried across open waters on logs that were pushed along by swimmers. The Miwok Tribe, however, were very adept in basket weaving. They used baskets to trap fish as well as to sift meal and grind nuts. The art of weaving was used to create baby baskets, cradles and food preparation tools.

Miwok men wore deerskin breech cloths worn around the waist or passed between the legs. In the wintertime, the men would do as the women and drape a deerskin or woven rabbit skins around their shoulders. Deerskin moccasins were worn when needed. Hunters often created disguises out of deer skins and used them for concealment while hunting deer.

The Miwok tribe foraged in sequoia groves.
The Miwok tribe foraged in sequoia groves.

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Discussion Comments


@anamur-- They were very hard working. They spent their time gathering and preparing food, making baskets and caring for children.

Just gathering and preparing food took them a long time because Miwok Indians ate a lot of acorn flour which was hard to make. It took them hours to make and cook that flour from acorns.

The rest of the time, they spent making baskets which was also difficult and tedious work.


Can anyone tell me more about the women of the Miwok tribe.? What were they like? How did they spend their time?


Haven't the Miwok Native American tribe been fighting for property rights?

I remember reading something about this in the paper. I believe the issue was about a California company wanting to use some of the land that belongs to the Miwok tribe for business.

Does anyone know what happened with that issue?

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